What is a breast ultrasound?
Breast ultrasounds are an important diagnostic imaging tool as they allow doctors to analyze the blood flow within the breast and can help identify any abnormalities within the breast itself. Breast ultrasounds are usually prescribed when changes are seen in mammograms, or when a change is felt but not seen in your mammogram.
When performing the exam, the sonographer uses a transducer to move around your breast and capture images. The transducer uses sound waves that bounce off the tissue within the breast and creates live images. The sonographer may also utilize a doppler probe when performing your exam. The doppler probe produces sounds that can be heard by the sonographer, allowing them to monitor blood flow within the breast, and if any, identify any blockages in the absence of sound.
Frequently asked questions:
Breast ultrasounds are commonly prescribed to look deeper into abnormalities identified in mammograms or physical exams. Breast ultrasound is not usually prescribed as a screening test for breast cancer as it may miss the early signs of cancer.
A Breast ultrasound may be prescribed if you;
- Have dense breast tissue as mammograms may not be able to see through the breast tissue.
- Are pregnant as mammograms utilize radiation.
- Are younger than 25 years old.
As with all other procedures, it is important you discuss any questions with your doctor prior to your appointment. No other special preparations are required. Patients are able to eat and drink as they normally would.
Most breast ultrasounds last 15–30 minutes. Ultrasound tests are usually painless unless the lump is tender.
The process begins with the sonographer physically examining the breast. They will then usually ask the person questions about the lump, such as:
- when they noticed it
- whether other symptoms are present
- whether and how it has progressed
After the examination, the sonographer will apply a cool, clear gel to the breast. By limiting air bubbles, this gel enhances the ability of sound waves to move through tissues.
In some cases, the sonographer will place a triangular pillow under the person’s shoulder, causing the body to roll to one side. The sonographer may also raise the person’s arm over their head. These positions can make it easier for the sound waves to travel and for the tissue to receive them.
Once the sonographer has evenly spread the gel, they will pass a wand-like device called a transducer over the breast. The transducer sends sound waves through the breast and records their activity. The sonographer will examine all the tissues and structures of the breast and take still images at several different sites and from various angles. They will usually create multiple still images of the lump and surrounding area. The sonographer may also take short moving videos.
After scanning the breast, they will check the armpit region for swollen or hard lymph glands and nodes.
If a sonographer has any concerns about the image’s accuracy, they may ask for a second opinion from a radiologist. Sometimes, the radiologist may need to redo portions of the ultrasound to evaluate the area of concern accurately.
Breast ultrasounds do not provide any exposure to radiation as other tests may carry this risk.
Breast ultrasounds may miss small lumps or tumors usually found in mammograms. Patient’s that are obese or those having large breasts, may have less accurate results with the additional tissue.
There may be other risks born from pre-existing health conditions, so it is important to discuss with your doctor prior to your exam.